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Post-pandemic pews


Goose eggs at Easter church services?

There used to be a joke about “CME Christians.” Those folks who attended church services only on Christmas, Mothers Day and Easter. Now, since the pandemic of 2020, the joke is about the “Pajama Christians,” who watch services in their beds each Sunday on their computers or smart TVs. 

Pastors fear that the Christian flock has scattered. Where there used to be four services each Sunday at one local mega church, but now there is one 9 a.m. service. Many churches are experiencing nearly empty pews year-round, but will that include Easter, the holiest day on the Christian calendar? Is this one of the side effects of our post-pandemic world?

“I think after the pandemic, people got pretty lazy and into themselves and the convenience of watching a service takes away that obligation to be there,” Pastor D.K. Redmond of Sunnyside Baptist Church said. “The whole center of church is a personal experience and you go there to collaborate, to gather, to enforce each other. A personal experience is much, much different than an electronic device.”

In the Bible book of Matthew, Jesus Christ told His disciple Peter he was the rock upon which the church of true believers would be built. The word “church” means “called out ones.” Church members are to gather to worship, feed on Biblical writings and edify one another. Their great commission is to make more disciples.

According to an August 2023 Wall Street Journal report, however, many Americans got out of the habit of going regularly to religious services during the pandemic, and just didn’t go back. Although they may identify with a religion, the report read, “...they’re also in the thick of raising kids, caring for aging parents and juggling demanding jobs that spill into the weekend.”

Experts say that working from home can have side effects on mental health, Redmond says that worship from home can affect one’s spiritual health.

Established in 1912, Sunnyside Baptist Church at 9317 Budlong Ave., has been a vibrant part of the greater Los Angeles community for over a century, but its  post pandemic pews are nearly vacant. Redmond believes that the same mental challenges work-from-home employees face — feelings of isolation and loneliness —  confront those who worship from home.

“There’s so much you can do on your own, but every human being I’ve known has those moments, those pits, where you feel like no one cares, no one knows,” he said. “Yes, you go to God. But if you can go to God with somebody else — especially with somebody who can tell you ‘I’ve been there. I know how you’re feeling and it will be alright.’ — that can make a difference.”

Redmond said church members cannot only offer personal experiences, but can point out scripture promises and share the Bible stories of other persons who survived life struggles. Sometimes they can share a hug.

“Because sometimes as a pastor, I can tell you, with that hug… there are no words,” Redmond said. “It’s just a hug and there’s nothing you can say. Nothing. But a hug speaks, and they feel that, and they know that it’s real.”

That’s one thing you cannot find online.

In-person vs. tele-worship   

“There is a definite moving, in-person. To be on one accord. And that’s what church is supposed to be,” the pastor said. “We go through hell every day, Monday through Saturday and sometimes on Sunday, and you gather and all of a sudden now, it’s like an Energizer bunny. You plug in your spiritual, which lets you know that it’s bigger, more powerful and stronger than the demonic forces that are in the world right now.”

Redmond compared watching services online to online dating.

“It’s amazing to me that a lot of people find their dates online,” he said. “But in person, you can hear and feel, and when they say something you can more discern whether that is truth or not. But online, you’ve got to be a good actor.”

Although the internet proved vital during covid, as people could not leave their homes during lockdown, Redmond said the fact of the matter is, church has not been the same since.

Not everyone had personal computers or smart TVs. Not everyone could access internet services. Some Christians didn’t want to use technology to worship, while others found the process too difficult to maneuver.

Then too, Redmond said, there are new challenges to the church. The tension brought about from the stress in the world due to the economy, lack of housing, drug use, and the health crisis have made folks leery of others who may be sick or emotionally disturbed.

“You’re afraid to talk to somebody on the street now, almost,” Redmond said, noting that he can no longer go out by himself and take communion to some people of his congregation, because of safety concerns. “And for us as Christians  — our goal and duty is to go out and get disciples. But you’ve gotta be careful.”

In addition to the pandemic, Redmond cites the fact that pastors are getting older and the newer generation looks at churches differently than the older generation.

“The older generation respected, reverenced the house of God as a sacred place of worship,” Redmond said. “Now it’s seen as a social, emotional, religious learning facility, which makes it much different. Now the investment is not just for my spirit and my soul, but the investment is ‘who is going there, who can I meet and how will it help me move forward.’”

Meeting challenges in 2024

The pastor believes churches have to change to meet their community’s needs. 

“Saturday is our Easter celebration and we do hide eggs, we have a jumper, we celebrate that Saturday,” Redmond said. “And then that Sunday we do come in and we do have an Easter service. Again, the focus is on younger people. That’s when their parents come out sometimes.”

He said that getting adults to attend services has been a challenge, as parents don’t make it a point to come to service and therefore, don’t bring their families.

“Our main thrust is toward the young people,” Redmond said, noting younger parishioners will tell the Holy Week stories in the recitation of scriptures, or singing songs and performing dances.

“We have more kids coming, who bring their parents now,” Redmond said. “It’s turned around, it’s flipped. That’s the difference at Easter Sunday now.”

Redmond hopes church leaders are finding and using new ways to meet the challenges of the times. For example, he has even given tips to people at a fast food drive through windows.

“They’re shocked,” he said. “And the gratitude is immediate and real. I mean, we go to restaurants and tip, why not the fast food person making minimum wage?” 

Redmond believes everyone should find new ways of being loving toward others.

“We as Christians need to find new ways to share our gospel,” the pastor said. “I have found that when I look a person in the eye and smile, stare at them and say ‘thank you,’ there’s a reaction. They accept that, they receive that.”